Wolf Imagery, Part 1

Throughout the play, playwright Hansol Jung includes countless allusions to wolves in nature, wolves as symbols, and wolves in folklore.

One of the most evident ways that wolves are built in to this story is in the characters’ names.

On page 34, we learn that Peter’s last name is Hunt. We know that wolves are apex predators at the top of the food chain — they hunt animals large and small, and often as a pack that separates and surrounds their prey with great speed and strength. Wolves first stalk their prey, and then strategically select the right time and choose the most vulnerable animal to attack. This maximizes nutrition by exerting as little energy as possible.

BBC Earth
BBC Earth: Frozen Planet

Another layer of meaning that this name holds is a reference to Peter and The Wolf, the opera by Sergei Prokofiev. The opera was first written and performed in 1938, and later famously recorded in 1978 with narration by David Bowie. The opera was made popular over several albums that served as a teaching tool and gateway for children into classical music. Movie adaptations also abound, like the 1958 Disney version, pictured below. A full version recorded by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, can be found here. Notably, each character has a leitmotif, or a musical pattern that signals when they appear in the story, which you may recognize. In this version, the conductor describes the wolf’s leitmotif as, “hideous, nasty, ugly, smelly” and “scary.” Peter, on the other hand, is represented by joyful strings.

The story of Peter and the Wolf follows a young boy named Peter who, excited to explore the clearing outside his grandfather’s home, leaves the gate open unintentionally. Although being warned by his grandfather that a wolf could come out of the forest and enter the yard, Peter defiantly claims that “boys like me are not afraid of wolves.” Inevitably, a wolf does appear, and gobbles up one of the boy’s ducks. With the help of some hunters, Peter catches the wolf, and instead of killing it, parades it to a zoo. One of the morals present in this story is that courage and creativity are essential to getting solving risky situations.

Notably, in Hansol’s play, we are doubled up with Peters. First, we have the young Peter Hunt — a puppet — aka Jeenu, an adopted child of Korean origin, who is also a boy in Wolf’s clothing. Or a Wolf in boy’s clothing. Then, there is the elder Peter Hunt, a white man from Arizona — the first adoptive father, who renames his Korean son after himself. We are told explicitly by the Wolf that Peter Hunt Senior is not a member of the pack, though has been someone worth forming an alliance with.

Disney’s Peter and the Wolf (1958)

Robin’s last name, Shephard, also has rich meaning behind it. A shepherd, is literally, “sheep-hearder.” And of course, what does a shepherd protect the sheep from?

In many religions, and especially in Christianity, a shepherd is often synonymous for God. This points to the notion that humans have a divine leader who will protect them from harm and not lead them astray. Just as shepherds keep watch over their flocks at night, and protect them from dangerous predators, so Jesus protects his flock. In the Biblical parable of the lost sheep, he says:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

By imbuing character names with wolf-imagery, what do you think Hansol is potentially revealing about these people and this story? What other ideas come to mind when examining these wolf-centric names?

In future posts, we’ll be writing more about all of the different references to wolves, their natural behaviors, and their presence in culture. But in the meantime, here’s Sam Sheepdog & Ralph Wolf in Looney Tunes’ “Steal Wool,” a classic of the Sheep-herder/Wolf genre…


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